A Letter To Our Daughters

A Letter To Our Daughters

A few reflections on what three women—as professionals and as mothers—wish they had known as they approached their careers.

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A Letter To Our Daughters

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To our daughters, as you approach your “career” years:

We’ve watched you grow up over the years, hitting milestones, navigating ups and downs, discovering who you are and what makes you tick. We’ve worked hard to help you grow into strong women, but biases persist, some subtle and some not so subtle, creating an environment in which midcareer women are 41% more likely to believe they don’t have the same opportunities to advance as men. And at home, women are 61% more likely to have a significant other with an equally intense job, and six times more likely to be the primary caregiver, if they have children. With these kinds of challenges, it’s going to be hard for you to hang on to the aspiration and confidence to keep climbing to more senior roles.

And so, as you embark on your own careers, we wanted to pass on a few reflections on what we—as career professionals and as mothers—wish we had known sooner:

1. Aim to thrive, not just succeed

From a young age, we are conditioned to measure success in certain ways: getting A’s in school or achieving specific levels in extracurricular activities, whether a varsity team or the lead in the school play. This doesn’t change in the workplace: Most organizations have a well-documented set of performance criteria that define success on the job.

Aiming to succeed is not bad—we’ve been telling you this your whole life! But from where we stand, we can see that it isn’t enough. Success can be energizing, fulfilling, and meaningful—or it can be draining, empty, and dissatisfying.

The key is thriving—feeling not just that you are successful, but that you are flourishing, and that your professional and personal pursuits are giving you energy and purpose. It is thriving that matters over a long-term career and life, the positive momentum that ultimately fuels aspiration and confidence.

The challenge is to think beyond conventional notions of success to how you can actually thrive. What gives you energy and purpose? (Note: This is likely NOT what gives your best friend, your sister, or your colleague energy.) What inspires you? Fast forward a bit and imagine you are at your 80th birthday party; what would you want people to say as they toasted you? Chances are, it will not be that you got all A’s in school, or were promoted in three years instead of four. Reorienting your thinking can keep your aspiration and confidence high. Once you know what makes you thrive, success will come naturally. But don’t confuse the two; too many of us have.

2. Take risks—all kinds of them…

You can’t thrive without taking risks. The key is recognizing when you’re shying away from something that will help you to thrive because you’re worried it won’t work out. Big risks, like taking a new job opportunity (or saying no to one!) or moving to a new country or using your savings to fund your start-up, can easily paralyze. When one comes along, ask yourselves: What is the real risk? What are the upsides, and what is the worst that could happen? Often, the idea of a risk is worse than the risk itself. Sheryl Sandberg said it well, in our view: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.”

Also, remember that it’s not just the big risks that matter. Your path is also determined by the little risks you take—or don’t take—every day. So don’t be afraid to speak up in those meetings, even if you are the most junior person in the room. Your opinion counts! Say no to someone when you need that hour to yourself to recharge or take a run. Voice an opinion, even if goes against the rest of the group. These may seem small, but in our experience, they can have a cumulative effect on your confidence over the long run.

3. …and be prepared to bounce back

Life never goes as planned. Things happen: big and small, good and bad. You are not going to avoid bumps in the road, so you need to be prepared to navigate them without being pushed off course. And the more you take risks, the more bumps may come your way. The very definition of a risk means it won’t always work as you hoped!

When something goes awry, one of your first reactions will be self-doubt. Are you good enough? Did you take the wrong risk? Are you now so far off track that you can never get back on the path you mapped out for yourself? If you talk to those who are thriving—well-known or not—their stories will be full of tough times where they had to bounce back, redirect, and get themselves back on track. What sets them apart is their ability to do so.

Start building your resilience muscles now. Know what makes you start to question yourself and what helps you to stay strong—long term and every day. These don’t have to be major efforts.

One of our colleagues has a playlist of songs that make her feel strong; another keeps a file of emails she’s received over the years with positive feedback. Seek out your crew to help you (more on this below). But remember that thriving isn’t about avoiding obstacles—it’s about what you do when you get to them.

4. Build the right crew—and use it

No one travels a career path—or a life path—alone, even though it may feel that way sometimes. You are surrounded by people who want to help you to thrive, and you will encounter more along the way. But they can’t help if you don’t let them. Know whom you need on your crew, and then bring them on board. Tell them what helps you to thrive; how else will they know? And then ask them to help. Women in particular tend to be afraid to ask for those in their crew to help, whether they need an advocate to get the next opportunity at work or support for a personal priority. But everyone grows stronger with the right people around them.

5. Remember: you are in control

If you remember one thing, please let it be this: You, and only you, are in control of your journey. Only you know what will enable you to thrive (even if we have a few ideas on that subject as mothers!). And only you can make the collective set of decisions required to thrive in your career and your life. Be intentional in the decisions you make, even if you have to revise your course. Too many of us have period of time where we feel slightly out of control of the direction we are taking—as if we are floating, being pushed by the currents of others. You may not always know if you are making the right decisions and indeed, some may be mistakes. But the important thing is that you are making them for yourselves.

Melissa Artabane, Julie Coffman and Darci Darnell are leaders of the Global Women’s Leadership Council at Bain & Company.


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